This image from 2007 shows an illuminated cross, part of the celebration of Meskel in Addis Ababa. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Ethiopians on Thursday night marked the Christian holiday of Meskel. Gerald Jones wrote about this dramatic celebration in 2011:
Meskel means “cross” in Amharic and it a major celebration (both religious and national) that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena. Tradition holds that, praying for assistance, Empress Helena had a revelation; she was to light a bonfire, and the smoke would lead her to the resting place of the True Cross. ?
The major celebrations occur on Meskel Eve. Around 6 pm, huge crowds gather in the Square where many priests assemble to chant in the Geez liturgical language and dance the measured steps of liturgical dance. These days, parish youth groups also gather and sing and dance, and it is wonderful to see young boys and girls actively involved in this traditional celebration.
The International Business Times has more details:
Legend has it that on this day circa 330, St. Helena — who is known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia and was the mother of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine — found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she’d had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried under the Gishen Mariam Church in the northeastern Wollo region. Ethiopia, which has one of the most devout Orthodox communities in the world, is the only country that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level.